ColumnWomen Against Feminism is proof that feminism has a branding problem.
Back in the ‘60s, it was often assumed that if you identified as a feminist, you hated men, loved armpit hair and liked to sleep with the ladies. Fast forward to 2014 and the stereotypes are largely the same.
Briefly, Riot Grrrls made feminism cool in the ‘90s, and there’s now a new wave of toys for girls that are clearly inspired by the radical idea that girls aren’t born hating math and science. But, for the most part, those things haven’t done anything to change the warped vision of a feminist in the minds of the average American.
I’ve said it before and I am sure I will say it again: Damn you, average American!
What bothers me most about Women Against Feminism is that the women with their handwritten signs declaring their ignorance are mostly young.
If the next generation is willing to accept this as women having achieved equality in our society, we’re all in trouble. You can’t see me, but I am looking around in disgust and thinking about Hobby Lobby, the pay gap, rape on college campuses and the danger inherent in simply being a girl or woman in this world.
One of the most disturbing trends in the misguided declarations of self-hatred on the site is the idea that being a feminist has something to do with being a victim. That’s a dangerous message of false empowerment. It’s not empowering to accept the status quo. It’s not self-victimization to look at injustice and demand better.
Feminists demand equal pay, we demand control over our bodies and we demand that laws protect those rights. We live in a society built on the idea that everyone is equal—and thankfully the definition of “everyone” has evolved over the years in most people’s minds. As such, when we see inequality, it’s our job to say something. The Women Against Feminism participants are willfully ignorant if they think we live in a just society.
The debate over the word feminist comes up over and over. Should we use humanist? Womanist? What word can we use to help people embrace the concepts behind feminism if they don’t resonate with the word?
Yes, the word feminist is culturally coded, but I would argue that today, those who steer the conversation toward the word do so to shift the focus from the reasons we need a word to describe the rights women in the country do not have. Oh look, now we’re arguing about semantics.
I think we stick with “feminist,” and its long, powerful history from the suffrage movement to Gloria Steinem to the Notorious RBG. It’s a word that, at times, has caused divisions of race and class—and that’s not good. I’m not suggesting we ignore that part of feminist history, I am suggesting that we look forward and do the hard work of uniting those of us with feminist beliefs. I am pushing for a makeover.
Can we take the word feminism—with all of its power to spark feelings, and with all its focus on constitutional rights—to help people feel connected to it? And by “people” I mean men, women of color, LGBTQ people, poor women, politicians, and basically everyone who knows that inequality is alive and picking up steam every time some stupid site like Women Against Feminism pops up.
Rebranding is tough, but totally possible. As an example, let’s think about yoga. Back in, oh say, the ‘90s, did you know people who did yoga? Did you think they were patchouli-wearing hippies? How about today? Take a look around any urban area and you’ll see yoga studios, yoga pants as work pants and those ubiquitous Lululemon bags. Yoga, for good or bad depending on whom you talk to, got a makeover. And good or bad, it’s still yoga.
In some ways, Sheryl Sandberg has given feminism a corporate makeover. But, while “Lean In” brought the conversation to the mainstream in a big way, it also served to divide us and reinforced the idea that feminism is for rich white ladies.
But don’t let images from the past or a distaste for one person’s experience with feminist thinking turn you off the idea that women’s rights are important and worth fighting for.
If the things that feminists believe in resonate with you, try to let the issues with the word g0. Find the arm (hairy armpit or shaved) of the feminist branch that appeals to you, because proudly identifying as a feminist matters. There is power in a collective identity and change comes when a critical mass of people demand equality.
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Image: Women Against Feminism